Streaming music to Bluetooth speakers is fast and convenient, but it tends to play havoc with batteries on phones, tablets and laptops. Google’s new Chromecast Audio ($35) aims to solve that problem by plugging into any existing set of speakers and streaming music via Wi-Fi, just as the regular Chromecast does for TVs.
Google unveiled the Chromecast Audio at a press event today (Sept. 29). The device itself is a black circle with grooves reminiscent of a vinyl record. It attaches to any set of speakers with an included 3.5-mm audio cord (colored bright yellow, possibly to make it harder to lose). Chromecast Audio is currently available at both retail stores and directly from Google, and costs $35.
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While there are already plenty of Wi-Fi speakers on the market, the Chromecast Audio is a little different. First, it’s not a speaker at all, simply a music source. Users can connect to it via Chromecast apps on iOS, Android and computers, provided that the Chromecast Audio and the source device are on the same Wi-Fi network. The device is currently compatible with Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora and users’ personal collections.
From there, users control music exactly as they would on their mobile devices or computers, with the one additional step of pressing the Cast button in the desired program. They can pause, play and skip tracks as usual, and users with Android Wear watches can even control the music right from their wrists.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of Chromecast Audio is that it does not drain a mobile device’s battery nearly as much as a traditional Wi-Fi or Bluetooth speaker. Rather than streaming music directly from a phone or tablet, the Chromecast Audio will look for the content in the cloud and play it from there, using a mobile device as a remote control rather than a source. (Presumably, users’ personal collections will still stream directly from one device to another, however.)
As developers optimize more apps for the Chromecast Audio, the device may be able to host some more sophisticated features. For example, if a user casts a Spotify playlist, any other user connected to that Wi-Fi network will be able to tune into the playlist and play, pause and skip tracks on it. Users will also be able to sync music across multiple Chromecast Audios in multiple rooms, although this feature will not be available until later this year.
Technically speaking, a regular Chromecast can play all the same music apps as a Chromecast Audio, and costs the same amount of money. On the other hand, users would need to daisy-chain it to good speakers through a TV, which may be more trouble than it’s worth. Tom’s Guide will let you know if the Chromecast Audio is worth a separate purchase once we get a unit in for review.